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Of Russian origin: Glasnost

М.С. Горбачев выступает с «нобелевской» лекцией. 1991 (Photo from Mikhail Gorbachev giving his famous speech after awarded Nobel Peace Prize. Oslo, Norway, 1991. (Photo from

Glasnost. Breaking the Mold

A policy of increased openness, transparency of state institutions and freedom of expression, Glasnost was the core element of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika of 1986-1991 aimed at democratization of Soviet society. “Without Glasnost there is no and cannot be any democratization, or political creativity of the masses, their involvement in ruling”, Gorbachev said in 1986. And a year later, at the Plenary Session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), where Perestroika was announced the USSR’s state ideology, its father claimed: “People need the truth, the whole picture…Now, as never before, we need more light, so that both the party and people would be able to know everything, so that we no longer have so called “dark corners”, where a mold could spring again”. Soviet people, for the first time in almost seven decades, were allowed to speak honestly and to hear the truth. They got the opportunity to tune in to Western radio stations and listen to Russian and foreign rock bands without fear of being arrested. Soviet newspapers revealed buried secrets of the past and present and reported openly about successes and foibles. For the first time since the October Revolution of 1917, the Communist Party itself could be criticized.

Many admit Glasnost was one of the most profound changes inaugurated by Gorbachev, and perhaps one of the most priceless democratic achievements of Perestroika, which was eventually derailed by it.

Massive media for the Masses

The fresh air of Glasnost changed Soviet media dramatically - and it changed people’s minds a lot. Through Glasnot the Soviet newspapers, radio and TV got more freedom in showing life in the country, were allowed uncensored coverage of the government policies for the first time,  and many “taboo” issues were finally opened for discussions: Stalin's epoch and purges, sex and prostitution, bureaucracy and corruption of the “Soviet state machine”. The new face of the media brought new people - previous administrators and editor-in-chiefs were replaced by the young and progressive generation everywhere.

Заставка программы Взгляд Intro of the Vzglayd TVprogramme

TV perhaps went through the deepest change. The late 1980’s was a time of private television production and non-governmental TV studios (many of which were broadcasting on state television) providing an alternative perspective and independent view on the country’s life. The news journal called “Vzglyad” (“Viewpoint”) on Leningrad TV became a kind of a symbol of those “times of changes”: it was the “60 minutes” of Soviet Television. Young and relaxed presenters (among them, Vladislav Listyev, eminent Soviet and Russian journalist, who was murdered in 1995), without ties provided live coverage and sharp criticism on burning issues, multiplied by video clips of popular Western bands previously banned in the Soviet Union - all of this was completely new for Soviet viewers

In 1986-1987 the USSR stopped jamming the Voice of America, BBC and other Western radio broadcasts. The West welcomed the move calling it “an important step forward” and “a good sign”. For the first time people in the Soviet Union were allowed to learn what life looked like abroad and what Western countries thought about life in the USSR.

At the same time, Radio Liberty, an American-financed radio service sharply critical of Soviet failings, continued to report intensified jamming of their service. It was only by 1988 that jamming of all Western radio stations was ended in the Soviet Union.

Wind of Change

Молодежь конца 80х Russian youth of late 80s

Thousands of political prisoners and hundreds of dissidents were released in the spirit of Glasnost in the USSR. One of the released dissidents was Andrey Sakharov. Prominent Soviet physicist and human rights activist, Sakharov was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons tests and the death penalty. He was exiled in 1980 after criticizing the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. When Perestroika brought him back in 1986, he returned to his active political life. In 1989 Andrey Sakharov was elected as a popular deputy of the USSR, and pushed forward with the draft of a new Constitution. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel peace prize.

Academic and scientific voices, the voices of former dissidents, were for the first time allowed to debate the Communist hierarchy under Glasnot. They founded dozens of informal organizations such as “Democratic union” for instance, organizing anti-communist marches and issuing independent newspapers and magazines.

A great number of books and movies and theatre performances banned by previous regimes were finally published and shown.

The Iron Curtain hadn’t fallen yet, but the curtain had already fallen from the eyes of the Soviet people. An unknown world of ideas, thoughts, values and opinions was lying before them. And their hearts were seeking changes.

In 1987 in a cult movie by Sergey Soloviev “Assa” people hear for the first time the song of the Soviet rock band “Kino” “We’re awaiting changes” – the song has become a kind of a symbol of Perestroika and Glasnot.

How Glasnost killed Perestroika

Газета Pravda newspaper

Glasnot allowed people to look at what was going around them and at the past of their country without rose-colored glasses. And people saw many things they didn’t like.

In bringing the people of the USSR toward a policy of Glasnost, Gorbachev hoped to bring democracy to the Soviet Union, to make its policy clear and transparent for people. As a result many shortcomings of Perestroika became obvious, and people felt skeptical about what initially they showed great support for.

Moreover, freedom of speech and information shed much light on the failures and wrongdoings of previous Soviet regimes. People lost their trust and respect for the Soviet ideology as a whole, it had been dishonored.

By 1990, thinking positively about anything Soviet became a true mauvais-ton while the entire society became more oriented towards Western values, democratization, and freedom.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Soviet rule was just the matter of time.

Written by Maria Finoshina, RT correspondent